TikTokers Say This Supplement Is ‘Nature’s Ozempic’—but Is It Safe? Experts Explain

TikTokers Say This Supplement Is ‘Nature’s Ozempic’—but Is It Safe? Experts Explain

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  • Some TikTok users are calling the supplement berberine “nature’s Ozempic.”

  • Research into berberine’s impact on weight loss is minimal, but ongoing.

  • Experts explain the risks of taking berberine.

TikTok has become a hotbed of questionable medical advice, so it’s understandable to have a healthy dose of skepticism when something new starts making the rounds. The latest: A slew of TikTokers are recommending the supplement berberine for weight loss.

“I’m on the way to get ‘Nature’s Ozempic,’” one TikTok user says in a post. “It’s this supplement called berberine. …The side effects don’t seem that bad.” (Ozempic, in case you’re not familiar with it, is a type 2 diabetes medication that has received a lot of press for its association with weight loss—though it is not intended for weight loss.)

Another TikToker dubbed Berberine “nature’s Ozempic” in a different post. She updated her followers on her weight loss progress, even showing off looser-than-normal jeans that she says came after seven weeks of using the supplement.

But the supplement industry is largely unregulated in the U.S., raising a lot of questions regarding if berberine is safe and what evidence there is to back up weight loss claims. Here’s the deal, according to nutritionists.

What is berberine?

Berberine is a botanical compound that targets a protein that’s common in insulin resistance and generating blood sugar (glucose).

“Berberine is a compound that you’re going to find in a lot of plants that have been used medicinally,” says Jessica Cording, R.D., a nutritionist and the author of The Little Book of Game-Changers. “It’s being studied for use in treating different conditions, including obesity.”

Scott Keatley, R.D., co-owner of Keatley Medical Nutrition Therapy, says “it’s been used in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for centuries due to its anti-inflammatory and anti-diabetic effects, which may explain its popularity on TikTok.”

The effects of berberine have been researched as a potential treatment for polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), as well as dyslipidemia (elevated cholesterol in the blood), type 2 diabetes, and obesity. Scientists have specifically looked at how the supplement may help reduce cardiovascular risks from having those health conditions.

Can berberine help you lose weight?

Maybe—but there’s more to it than that. Some data suggests berberine may help with weight loss, although it’s important to note that it hasn’t directly been compared to weight loss drugs like Ozempic.

One 2022 meta-analysis published in Frontiers in Nutrition, for example, analyzed data from 49 studies and found that berberine may help boost metabolism, which could lead to small amounts of weight loss.

"Some animal studies have found berberine could prevent obesity by affecting the expression of genes that promote the growth of fat—adipose—cells," says Deborah Cohen, R.D.N., an associate professor in the Department of Clinical and Preventive Nutrition Sciences at Rutgers University. Berberine may also help tamp down on fat cell growth by preventing them from taking in glucose and fatty acids, she says.

“Berberine decreases the secretion of leptin, a natural hormone which stimulates appetite,” Keatley says. “But, unlike mice, which are the vast majority of test subjects for berberine, we have other compensatory systems to signal hunger.”

Experts say it’s hard to tell at this point whether berberine is, in fact, “nature’s Ozempic.”

“We really need to see where the research goes—it’s too soon to say if it helps with weight loss for sure,” Cording says. “With more people becoming aware of the class of medication that Ozempic is in, we’re seeing more people look for other options. But berberine needs to be studied more before we can understand if it’s truly effective or safe.”

Keri Gans, R.D.N., author of The Small Change Diet, agrees. “More controlled human studies are needed,” she says.

Berberine side effects

In general, the potential side effects of taking berberine are thought to be minimal. Cohen says the supplement may cause the following symptoms:

  • Diarrhea

  • Constipation

  • Gas

Is berberine safe?

Berberine does not interact well with certain medications and conditions. “Anyone taking the medication cyclosporine should not take berberine, as berberine can increase its effects and the side effects of this medication,” she says. “In addition, individuals who have hypoglycemia—low blood sugar—should avoid berberine.”

People with gastrointestinal conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) will also likely want to avoid berberine due to its potential for diarrhea, constipation, and gas, Cording says. Women who are breastfeeding should also not take berberine, since it can be passed through milk to the baby, she adds.

“There are always concerns about the quality of supplements and if they are what they claim to be,” Keatley says. “But, aside from some GI discomfort and, potentially, a decreased ability to digest large amounts of fat properly, there have been few, if any, adverse reactions.”

Potential drug interactions are “a big concern,” Gans says. “Berberine is noted to potentially lower blood sugar levels and should be used with caution for people with diabetes on glucose-lowering medications,” she says. “Also, berberine may interact with many drugs that are broken down by the liver causing a decrease in effectiveness and an increase in side effects, such as ibuprofen, losartan, metoprolol, and tamoxifen.”

If you’re interested in trying berberine for weight loss, Cording recommends checking with your doctor first to make sure it won’t interact with any medications you’re taking or impact any underlying health conditions you may have.

But experts generally recommend that you try avenues for weight loss other than supplements. “Cut back on portion sizes, increase your physical activity….losing weight takes time,” Cohen says. “Weight was not gained in two weeks and thus, folks should not expect to lose all the weight in two weeks. If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.”

Dietary supplements are products intended to supplement the diet. They are not medicines and are not intended to treat, diagnose, mitigate, prevent, or cure diseases. Be cautious about taking dietary supplements if you are pregnant or nursing. Also, be careful about giving supplements to a child, unless recommended by their healthcare provider.

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